This remarkable letter was written by John David Myers (1838-1863), the son of Samuel Washington (Edwin) Myers (1812-1884) and Salome Sarah Leffler (1812-1890) of Sandusky, Ohio. John came to Tama county, Iowa, with his parents in 1856, was married to Frances Cecilia Nickerson in December 1860, and was the father of an infant named Edgar when he enlisted in August 1862 as a corporal in Co. F, 28th Iowa Infantry. Enlisting at the same time in the same company was John’s younger brother, Samuel Washington Myers, Jr. (1843-1922). Corp. John Myers eventually contracted cholera and died of disease in Helena, Arkansas, but not before briefly serving as orderly sergeant in the newly formed 11th Louisiana Infantry (African Descent).
In this letter, Myers gives a first-hand account of the fighting by the 28th Iowa Infantry at the bloody Battle of Champion’s Hill on 16 May 1863 in which his company was wholly engaged and “cut to pieces” [See Adjutant Strong’s Official Report in footnotes]. ¹ In prose reminiscent of Stephen Crane’s, “The Red Badge of Courage,” we are thrown into the action with Corporal Myers as he shares his movements, thoughts and fears. In his version of events, Corporal Myers actually saves the day by a chance encounter with Major General “Black Jack” Logan to whom he reported the position of the enemy and joined with them in turning back the rebel tide.
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent. It should be noted that a portion of this letter was quoted in Tim Smith’s excellent book, “Champion’s Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg” (p. 187). Twenty-seven of John Myers Letters are archived at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.]
Camp near Clinton, Mississippi
May 15th 1863
It is with the greatest pleasure that I again take the opportunity to write a few lines to let you know that I am still among the living and have not forgot my lovely wife and baby I left at home. It is only a few days since Have wrote to you but being that we are in the field of action, I suppose you are anxious to hear from me as often as you can. I believe I did not tell you that I had got them stamps. I have got thirty-two stamps and I thank you very much for the trouble you have been to to get them and send them.
May 17th 1863
Dear woman, I again take up my pen to finish my letter. I was called on duty the other day just as I got it began and have not had time to write since till today. We had one of the bloodiest fights yesterday that has been fought for some time. We was marching from Jackson to Vicksburg. We was about thirty-five miles south of Vicksburg at Bolton Station and was met with a heavy force of rebels but our forces [were] scattered over a considerable space of country and our Division was attacked for the first one and we fought them ten to one for about 2 hours when they began to drive us back. We had just crossed a field when the rebels made a charge on us and just naturally cut all to pieces and scattered our regiment so that I did not find the regiment till nine o’clock at night.
Our loss was as follows. David Shelton, George Williams, [and] John Snapf was killed dead on the field. Samuel W. Hammit, Barnabus W. Russell mortally wounded and have since died. J[ohn] W. Hiatt, W[illiam] Nixon, Thomas Southern, Henry M. Miller, Samuel Arbuthnot, John E. Rockenfield severely wounded, and several others slightly wounded. I had my big toenail shot off and was struck with a spent grapeshot on the right knee and the left elbow and a ball on the left ankle—which was a glancing shot—cut my pants and left quite a welt on my ankle. The other two shots did not penetrate the flesh but lamed me considerable.
Captain [John] Staley, John Wilson, [Benjamin] Frank Brannon, Charles Lounsberry, Joseph Chess, Abraham Godfrey, John Blair [were] taken prisoners. Abraham Godfrey was wounded in the left leg but I don’t know how bad but he could walk when I last saw him. I did not notice the retreat when our men started and when I started, I saw that our men was falling thick and fast and before I could get to the lines, they all jumped into a ditch and laid down and fired a few rounds. I jumped in the ditch and fired a few times and looked around to see what the rest of the boys was doing being they had stopped shooting and here they was running as fast as they could go—all but a few that was hugging the ground as close as possible to avoid being hit.
[As] the rebels was coming on a keen run about 100 yards off, I again took to heels and run and the balls whistled round me like hail. And just as I got to our regiment again, Samuel [W.] Hammitt was wounded. ² He was hit in 2 places—one though the right breast and once through the right thigh and he begged for me to carry him off from the field and I picked him up and ran for the nearest place of shelter and laid him down in the shade of a large tree where he was out of danger. I took my canteen and gave him a drink and wet his face and by that time the rebels had got between me and our regiment and I took up my old gun and let them have the contents of it a few times and then run again, not knowing where I was going to nor what hands I was a going to fall into.
I felt my way as careful as possible through the thick brush and trees. I at length heard someone halting me and I stopped and to my surprise I saw General [John A.] Logan and I hurried up to him. He had a force of 8 thousand and I told him the condition our division was in and he threw his lines in the shape he wanted them and took after them and I went with them. We soon caught them and fired three rounds at them and got them completely confused and then we made a bayonet charge on them and took 2,000 prisoners without losing more than 15 or 20 men. I helped to take them to a convenient place for safe keeping and then went in a hunt of my own regiment but did not succeed in finding it and so I went back on the battlefield and such a sight that I witnessed there I hope I may never have to witness again. The dead men and wounded laid as thick on the field as sheep in a pasture. The Iowa troops suffered severely. Our company lost nearly half and it was the same through the whole of the nine regiments of our brigade.
George [H.] Stoddard from Toledo killed dead and T[iberias] Donaldson, Rean [Ireneus] Donaldson’s brother, was wounded in the hand. George Hillman was wounded and Sam taken prisoner—all from the 24th Iowa. George Guilford was wounded. J[ohn] Crosby wounded. That is not near all the Tama county boys but it is all that I personally know of. [Brother] Samuel was not in the fight. He is detailed for provost guard but you better believe he was a well-pleased boy when he saw me after the battle for he had heard that our company had been all cut up and I could not be found. He was sure I was killed or taken.
Well, I must stop writing more news. About that furniture you spoke of, you can do what you think best but I would rather you would not buy much costly furniture at present. I think I will be to home by the first of August if we succeed in getting Vicksburg. We have taken 10,000 rebel prisoners and 36 pieces of artillery. We have had three battles and several skirmishes since we crossed the river at Grand Gulf and have got all the artillery the rebels had outside of Vicksburg and nearly all the rebels.
— John Myers
¹ HDQRS. TWENTY-EIGHTH IOWA VOLUNTEER INFANTRY, Near Vicksburg, May 30, 1863.
It affords me great pleasure to send you a report of the part taken by the Twenty-eighth Iowa Volunteer Infantry in the battle of Champion’s Hill, May 16, 1863. Champion’s Hill is situated about 9 miles (on the railroad) east of Big Black River, and about half-way between Bolton and Edwards Stations. We had been making a feint on Edwards Station on the 12th and 13th, so as to give General McPherson a better chance to enter Jackson, and on the 15th we marched on the Jackson road as far as Clinton, where we turned on the Vicksburg road and marched as far as Bolton Station, where we encamped for the night (our division being in the advance).
The next morning, after marching about 3 miles, we came up with the enemy’s pickets at Champion’s buildings, and drove them in. Here the Twelfth Division formed in line of battle, our regiment taking position on the left of the Forty-seventh Indiana, in the Second Brigade. At 10 a.m., after a short delay, the word “Forward!” was given, and we moved nearly a mile by the front, firing becoming brisk. Company B, of our regiment, was sent out as skirmishers, and found the enemy in force on our front and left. We then, by order of Colonel Slack, of the Forty-seventh Indiana, commanding brigade, passed to the left of the Fifty-sixth Ohio (which placed us on the extreme left of the division), and engaged the enemy, our left resting on the north of the Raymond road. There we found the enemy in large force, ready to receive us. After a few minutes of hard fighting, it became evident that the enemy were trying to turn our left, particular attention being paid to that particular point. We succeeded in driving them back. About this time the enemy appeared to be largely re-enforced, and we were compelled to fall back on account of the murderous flanking fire on our right, to which we were at this time exposed. We then moved to the right and formed on the Clinton road, where we held them in check until re-enforcements arrived, when we drove them from the field in confusion. As to the battle of Port Gibson, the officers and men conducted themselves like veterans.
Our loss in killed, wounded, and missing was severe. Four companies of the regiment came out of the fight without a commissioned officer. Lieut. John J. Legan, of Company A (Captain Shutts acting as major), was killed while gallantly leading his men on; Capt. Benjamin F. Kirby, of Company I, was also killed while doing his duty nobly; Lieut. John Buchanan, of Company H, lost his arm; Capt. John A. Staley, of Company F, was taken prisoner while crossing the field north of the Raymond road, gallantly disputing the advance of the enemy. Our greatest loss was while we were charging across an open field between the Raymond and Clinton roads, and while we were falling back. Our regiment fell in in good order, considering the ground, and rallied around the old flag at the first call, and on the second charge, together with the Seventeenth Iowa, the boys raised the Iowa shout and drove the enemy from the field in confusion.
I remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant, — Joseph G. Strong, First Lt. & Adjutant 28th Iowa
² Hammitt, Samuel W. Age 19. Residence Toledo, nativity Ohio. Enlisted Aug. 14, 1862. Mustered Sept. 15, 1862. Killed in action May 16, 1863, Champion’s Hill, Miss